Yep. Uh-huh. This is it.
Charlie Miller comes through again with a very essential upgrade to what this head feels is the Greatest Dead Show Ever Played. I expect no one to actually share that opinion, but I will lay out the case nevertheless.
First, it's 1977, and the band is charging towards the end of their greatest year like a dam burst forth. May '77 has the best collective run of shows to be sure, with nary a clunker anywhere, but if you want that extra charge, that hard-driving rock & roll edge to go along with the perfect flow and practically ESP-like melding of minds that marked the May run, you need to dip your toes into the fall tour.
And this show is the one that rules above all.
We begin with Jerry charging out of the gate with a vocal rendering of MIGHT AS WELL that says "Hey, I'm here for some serious fun. You'd better be too." Flawless rendition (as is virtually every song on this night), and the rest of the gang joins in on the flurry of chorus repeats at the end.
A scintillating JACK STRAW follows. Note if you will Bobby's own vocal commitment (perhaps not to be outdone by Jerry on the opener) when he holds the note on "...not with aaaaaaaaalllllll." This is followed by simply the best bridge into "Jack Straw from Witchita" these ears have ever heard. Yes, there are longer jams, but I would argue none better in this version in terms of intensity, build up, and picture-perfect touch-down into that final verse. Not a note wasted and each one infused with runaway energy.
DIRE WOLF fans...standard greatness here.
LLR...My one complaint with this show, but only because I hate this song. Fans of it tell me this version is terrific, so if you fall in that category, you're all set.
LOSER, EL PASO, RAMBLE, MINGLEWOOD, ROSES...all flawlessly rendered, great gritty guitar from Jerry...it's standardly wonderful '77 fare.
LET IT GROW. Hang on, this is where things start to get hairy. Garcia rips it up, throwing in liberal hints of "Spanish Jam" and other fuzz-guitar madness...it all holds together under Bob's impassioned vocals and Donna does not get in the way. If not for 5/1/81 I'd call this the all-time best version. It certainly ranks in the Top 5.
BERTHA. Oh, this Bertha. I hardly know where to start, but at the beginning: Listen to how Phil drops his bass notes one after the other in the opening notes, and how when he gets to the end it all rolls into one as the rest of the band jumps in at exactly the right moment to bring the chords into focus. The Garcia jams during the bridge reach new heights every time I listen...I simply cannot fathom how he was able to rip such ever-climbing notes into a coherent symphony of sound. It then passes seamlessly into an extraordinary GOOD LOVIN', also featuring rolling Phil bass lines and more monster jams by Jerry.
FRIEND OF THE DEVIL. Just exactly perfect and Phil booms his bass at all the peak moments.
ESTIMATED is a Jerry Wah-Wah fest of the highest order...there are spacey elements to the post-lyrics jam that will mesmerize the mind, bringing us to a phenomenal, epic, jaw-dropping EYES OF THE WORLD. In the intro before a word is sung, we have Jerry channeling his inner Wes Montgomery. This is jazz guitar meshing perfectly in this Rock & Roll band. Note the ease and flow which marks this intro...nothing rushed; a beautiful up and down and all around journey that sets the tone, with almost no hint of the fury to come...It's lovingly sung...no flubs...and then we get the first jam break as Garcia teases with a crescendo that finishes perhaps a tad earlier then we expect...but it's a set-up for the next instrumental break, which busts open the gut of rock, jazz, psychedelia and more...Garcia rises, falls, rises again, and crashes it all down with band in tow into a frenzy of musical ecstasy that defines what the Grateful Dead were and what they meant to their fans. And then he steps up and sings "Sometimes we live no particular way but our own", and we know exactly what he means.
Had enough? Please. A short SPACE,and it's time for a ST STEPHEN of raw blues power. Blues? Really? Hear for yourself. Listen to the oprning and tell me Garcia hasn't turned this late 60's acid tune into a gritty blues number. And it just takes off from there. Hard crashing drumming (it's at this point in the show that Mickey and Billy REALLY start to assert themselves), and again, flawless stuff charging headlong into a brief drumming stint and then a NOT FADE AWAY that rocks the house hard.
No wonder they had to bring it down a notch for a melancholy BLACK PETER. Except, ummm....no. This PETER is focused and intense and by the time Jerry implores all to "Come run and seeeee..." we're all wailing at the wall of a tortured soul.
But Bobby refuses to end the night on a down note, and Mickey and Billy have their own plans for a scorching SUGAR MAG. (Caveat: Most SBD versions feature an edited version--expertly done, but an edit still...we jump right from verse one to "Sometimes when the cuckoo's cryin'") but that should not deter you.
*** And, as it turns out, this excellent Miller upgrade includes a patch so you get the FULL Magnolia. Accept nothing less.***
This just jams and wails and rocks and if that wasn't enough the rhythm devils go ballistic on an impromptu drum roll at the end--neither one wanting to be the last to beat the skins...by the time SSDD begins, you can actually hear Weir laughing at what they've done. They've given it their all, and the SSDD keeps a movin'.
A lot of SBDs don't contain the SAT. NIGHT encore. (This one does). But I could care less. If you're not breathless by the end of this masterpiece you're hard to impress.
This incredible show should be enshrined in history. It is my favorite Dead show of all time, and even if you do not agree, I am willing to bet dollars to Dead Donuts it will fall somewhere in your Top 10.